Technology’s Role in Active Shooter Prevention

June 4, 2020
How integrators can help to make response times faster and facilities safer
This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention @SecBusinessMag on Twitter and Security Business magazine on LinkedIn.

It was closing time for bars in the popular Oregon district of Dayton, Ohio, when a gunman shot 26 people in just 32 seconds before being fatally shot by an officer, who potentially saved hundreds of lives.

When it comes to an active shooter or active assailant event, time is critical. A fast response can mean hundreds of lives saved. The Department of Homeland Security’s Active Shooter: How to Respond educational booklet reports that “the average duration of active shooter incidents in institutions of higher education within the United States is 12.5 minutes. In contrast, the average response time of campus and local law enforcement from the beginning of the incident to the scene is 18 minutes.”

It is critical for security integrators to help quicken this response time, whether it happens on a higher-ed campus, a K-12 facility or even a corporate or retail facility. While law enforcement is the primary defense against these assailants, security integrators can bring multiple technology alternatives to the table to build a safer facility while enabling faster response times.

Here are some of the technologies and ideas you should be recommending not only to school customers, but to any vertical market customer that needs to identify and potentially prevent a mass assailant:

Site Design

During World War I, engineers dug zigzagging patterns through the earth to prevent enemy soldiers from shooting in a straight line down the length of the trench – leaving relative few exposed to gunfire or shrapnel. Schools need to take the same design mindset.

One recent example is Fruitport High School in western Michigan, which embarked on a controversial $48 million construction retrofit project in August 2019 to add curved hallways to reduce an assailant’s line of sight. In addition, to the hallway areas, architects from Michigan-based firm TowerPinkster designed classrooms to provide cover and egress, including an area in each one that cannot be seen from the hallway. Each classroom also includes lockdown on demand and shelter-in-place areas.  

Critics claimed that Fruitport’s curving corridors could potentially slow police and SWAT teams in a dynamic entry; however, with more active assailants having large-capacity magazines, the necessity to slow the attack is paramount.

To prove the use of aggressive ingress, egress and shelter space architectural modifications will slow the attack, an assessment of the projected modifications will enable the security expert to virtually visit the modified facility at any time. One software provider, Visual Plan ( is bringing 3D technology to that process. Besides being easier and more cost-effective than traditional methods of measurement and facility mapping, the Visual Plan 360° capture software enables virtual collaboration, design, review, inspections and assessments, the company says on its website. It also allows various stakeholders to share, annotate and mark-up critical building information safely and remotely. In case of an emergency, the software also enables real-time collaboration with first responders.

Weapons Detection

To save precious response time for law enforcement to arrive and local School Resource Officers to act, a proactive threat detection and alert system that automatically detects guns in a real-time through a camera’s RTSP video feed is necessary.

Athena Security ( solves this issue by using artificial intelligence to virtually detect a weapon – whether a gun or knife – on a person instantly. Once a threat is detected, the hybrid cloud solution automatically communicates critical information in real time to mobile devices, law enforcement and monitoring service and initiates automatic lockdown.

For maximum reliability, feeds from entry and hallway cameras are directly analyzed by the AI weapons detection algorithm, so the school can prioritize the purchase of “actionable” technology in the event they do not spend time monitoring a video management solution.

Time of Flight Sensors and Facial Recognition 

Creating reduced sight lines – such as with the Fruitport High School renovation – produces an unconventional video surveillance challenge that requires a greater number of image sensors at a lower cost. Time of Flight (ToF) sensors – which enable real-time 3D tracking by measuring the time it takes for a beam of light to be reflected back from a surface – could be the answer. The sensors support technologies such as facial recognition, object recognition and augmented reality.

Cameras like the Basler Blaze industrial 3D camera ( operate on the pulsed ToF principle to recognize faces and weapons in three dimensions, and automating active assailant threat recognition.

At the 2020 CES show, the Meere Company demonstrated a range of ToF video surveillance “Cube Eye” cameras performing functions like short-range object recognition and facial recognition. About the size of a package of gum, the cameras can support fall detection, gesture control, augmented and virtual reality, people counting, facial recognition, behavior analysis and digital signage. About a quarter of the cost of a comparable indoor IP camera, they can be attached to Wi-Fi power sourcing equipment (PSE) located throughout the school to enable functions such as:

  • Real-time weapons recognition.
  • On recognizing weapon, activate facial recognition and whole-body imaging so officials can accurately identify the gunman, and relay location as other ToF sensors are passed.
  • Activate lockdown.
  • Identify the last known location of missing students.
  • Identify any unregistered person on campus as potential threat.

Facial Recognition data for students, faculty and staff can be updated for cameras at all school entries. With the use of 3D ToF cameras at entry/exit doors, it is not necessary for people to be in a “frontal facial pose,” so registration and testing can be done easily.

Although the practice of enrolling students in a local facial recognition database – together with wider use of these lower-cost cameras – deliver extraordinary safety and security benefits, privacy advocates may argue that the children’s consent is not freely given, as several GDPR cases are argued overseas. That said, the ability to offer the functionality described to law enforcement could save precious lives in an active assailant scenario.

With the lower costs of new security sensors replacing cameras typically costing three-times more – coupled with the cost of automated lockdown systems decreasing thanks to smart locking systems with Z Wave, Zigbee or NFC connectivity – profitability is restored for the integrator.

License Plate Recognition

Video analytics-based license plate recognition (LPR) traditionally requires the use of three separately sourced components – an IP camera, embedded analytic software or cloud service, and some type of video management system to access vehicle entries. An alternative is an affordable, multi-core machine vision-based Automatic Number Plate Camera (ANPR).

As school community members add and update their vehicle information for the sensors to work at maximum efficiency, these systems can give valuable information, such as vehicles left overnight or vehicles in the parking lot that are not in the school’s access control database.

Even if a vehicle does not have a plate or has stolen plates, vehicle information is gathered and analyzed at the camera itself.

Steve Surfaro is Chairman of the Public Safety Working Group for the Security Industry Association (SIA) and has more than 30 years of security industry experience. He is a subject matter expert in smart cities and buildings, cybersecurity, forensic video, data science, command center design and first responder technologies. Follow him on Twitter, @stevesurf.

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